Some of the staff in my secondary school have relationships that make Channel 4's 'Teachers' look like 'Teletubbies'. Should I say something?

30th January 2004 at 00:00
Ted Wragg, emeritus professor of education at Exeter University, answers your professional problems, big or small, every week. Ask him for independent advice - or offer some of your own

Ted says

Whether you should act directly depends on your own position in the school, how bad the situation is and who is involved. If you are a recently arrived newly qualified teacher, reprimanding a couple of middle-aged staff seen canoodling in the car park might seem a bit brash, even if your worries are justified. On the other hand, if you are a manager you cannot duck the issue.

In a school with 50 to 100 teachers it can happen that some become attracted to each other, and there are many happy marriages and successful partnerships between people who work together. Most such couples have the sense to behave in a professional manner. Problems arise if their public behaviour becomes an embarrassment to staff and pupils.

Tempting though it may be to throw a bucket of cold water over them, you would be better off talking in confidence to a trusted senior member of staff. You may find your dismay is shared and that action can be taken. If the problems are bad, you must raise the matter with your headteacher.

There is a particular difficulty, of course, if the head is one of the miscreants - a rare situation that usually ends in tears all round. It is not easy, even for a senior teacher, to raise such a delicate matter with the boss of the school, but someone has to do it or the consequences will be dire.

Whoever deals with the problem must concentrate on the main issue.

Otherwise futile arguments about people's rights to associate with whom they wish will obscure what should be the central focus: inappropriate professional behaviour in public and in front of children.

You say

A word in their ear

It depends who is present when they behave inappropriately. If it is other adults in the staffroom, a casual remark such as: "Blimey, you're worse than Year 10," may do the trick. If you have management responsibility, you should talk to your line manager, or to the personnel department if you are the headteacher, before you speak to them, so you are certain that what you are saying complies fully with your school's discipline and grievance policy.

But if staff are making sexually inappropriate remarks or being inappropriately demonstrative in front of students within school, they should be disciplined using the school's discipline policy. The head usually instigates this. But remember that many people meet their partners at work, and dating colleagues is commonplace. In most secondary schools the students know a great deal about the personal lives of the staff, however hard those staff try to keep their private lives private. Girls in particular seem to have some sort of inbuilt radar that homes in on gossip about staff.

Liz Parkinson, Cheshire

Sit back and enjoy the action

Wiggle your bum, adjust your antennae, clap your hands and shout: "Again, again!" Nothing beats a good soap. Don't miss it!

Gill Tweed, south London

Check your facts

Have you evidence of alleged misdemeanours other than from pupils? Many will embroider stories that may reflect badly on teachers; they like to think they are being taught by a bunch of characters. If you have enough evidence to believe there is something morally dubious about such activities, do you blow the whistle? Can you do so anonymously? Or should you be prepared to make a stand - at the risk of ridicule (or worse) from your workmates?

Proceed - in whichever direction your conscience takes you - with extreme caution.

P Dale, Brighton

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